Grigor Sarkisyan, Nataline's father, has perhaps the best response to that: As he told me, he works very hard at his job to pay big premiums to the insurance company -- to not cover his family when they get sick!
As Mr. Sarkisyan also warned me, remember that the bulk of health insurance reforms being debated in Congress will be undercut if this ERISA loophole is not closed, because most of the health care system will continue to be based on the same workplace health plans covered by ERISA. The odds are, that includes your plan!
As ERISA-expert attorney Richard Johnston sums up: "What you have is a piece of paper saying some company will pay your claim if it feels like it. You don't have insurance at all -- you only think you do."
Like the health reform debate in general, this fight against ERISA Sect. 514, or at least its interpretation by the courts, has been going on for years. In 2001 none other than the late-Sen. Edward M. Kennedy led an unsuccessful fight against this grave injustice. As Teddy Kennedy said: "Patients should have the right to hold their HMO accountable in court when its negligence causes the injury or death of a patient. No other industry in America enjoys immunity from accountability for its actions, and the insurance industry does not deserve it either."
As bereaved mother Hilda Sarkisyan has told me, and anyone else willing to listen, "I want to get rid of this ERISA law and replace it with Nataline's law." Consumer Watchdog is running a campaign to do just that (Visit this link to send an e-mail to your senators; I just did).
I can think of no more fitting tribute to this lovely young lady, so in love with her God-fearing family and life in general, than for the Congress, reforming our health care system, to amend or replace this tragically flawed law -- or for the Supreme Court to change its interpretation -- so that we the people may have the federal legal power to effectively persuade workplace-based health insurance plans to truly cover -- not deny coverage to -- the more than 100 million Americans in such plans, now as well as under reform.
If you think this nightmare couldn't happen to you or your loved ones, just ask the Sarkisyans.
The Sarkisyan family has set up a foundation in memory of Nataline, who was studying to become a fashion designer. The foundation hosts annual fashion shows and has raised money to provide scholarships for young people going to fashion school, culinary school, and medical school. For more information please visit http://www.myspace.com/fashionlegacy.
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